Monday, December 10, 2012

SWSL Glastonbury 2011 Diary

(The first three parts are here, here and here.)

Saturday 25th June

Wakey wakey, rise and shine! Rob rubs the sleep from his eyes to be confronted with the sight of a neighbouring camper dropping his pants, wiping his arse and then studiously examining the wet wipe.

The morning gets grimmer still with the news that Peter Falk aka Columbo is dead and the discovery that Daf has dislocated his knee, having slid in the mud on leaving the Park Stage last night - yet another reason to be irritated by Radiohead. Dan slurps down a consolatory carton of cold Ambrosia custard, while Steph recounts how good DJ Shadow's John Peel Stage set was.

Still, not everyone's miserable. Owen, who managed to negotiate his way into the festival through extreme good fortune shortly before the Radiohead debacle, delightfully describes the feeling of finally walking through the gate: "It was like putting your cock in warm butter". I wouldn't know but am not wholly surprised that he apparently does.

TAME IMPALA (Pyramid Stage) look about as zonked out as everyone else stumbling around in a midday daze, but in their case it's permanent. And whereas they pad about onstage barefoot, that would be a one-way ticket to trenchfoot for those of us in the crowd. The very youthful foursome, all the way from Western Australia, deal in blissfully hazy pop-psych (Dead Meadow via The Beatles), too stoned to melt your ears and only just about capable of lying on its back and staring into the sun. Innerspeaker's strongest tracks are given the opportunity to charm the uninitiated, and for those of us already familiar with their debut there's the bonus of a wonderfully hypnotic cover of Massive Attack's 'Angel'.

YUCK. The first thought that came into Rob's mind earlier when assaulted with that vision, but also our next port of call, over on the John Peel Stage. A bustling tent (probably courtesy of the Guardian recommendation) is treated to a tremendous barnet by drummer Jonny Rogoff and a masterclass in late 80s US underground pastiche - Dinosaur Jr, Lemonheads, Yo La Tengo et al - with the odd diversion into British indie of the same period ('Georgia' finds The Cure and My Bloody Valentine hand-in-hand with indie-pop). Hardly original, but when it ends with the magnificent droning dirge of 'Rubber' (very definitely NSFW video here) you won't find me complaining.

Up at Cubehenge/Wellyhenge, someone's playing a mash-up of Cee-Lo Green's 'Fuck You' and Van Halen's 'Jump'. Meanwhile, a disability scooter sits marooned and abandoned in the mud.

Behold a legend who emerged from the period Yuck venerate: Greg Dulli. Glastonbury doesn't seem to realise, though, as his post-Afghan Whigs outfit THE TWILIGHT SINGERS (Other Stage) have drawn a pretty paltry crowd whose response is muted at best. Dulli is resplendent in shades and black shirt - a combo he was surely squeezed out of the womb wearing - and drawls his way through dark lyrical tales of obsession and treachery familiar to anyone acquainted with his work in the Whigs. But the truth is that they're set to music that simply doesn't do them justice, and I find myself in tacit agreement with the shrugging gaggle.

Time for that visit to the Bath Pig chorizo stall, as promised yesterday. I come away with the fully monty - nicely piquant chorizo in a bun also stuffed with roasted peppers and a tranche of mature cheddar. It might have cost £7, but in Glastoland especially it's worth every penny. The paprika-scented oil ensures I'll be wandering around like a member of the Red Hand Gang for the rest of the afternoon.

"Anyone got any pills?" "Yes", comes the reply from near me. "Do you want to meet the band?" It might only be mid-afternoon, but PULLED APART BY HORSES (Oxlyers West) seem to be very much into the Glastonbury spirit of getting fucked up. The Leeds lads - by some distance the heaviest band of the weekend - have graduated from the BBC Introducing Tent next door and debut a couple of new songs, though it's rabid old favourites 'Meat Balloon' and 'Yeah Buddy' that are best received. No daredevil leaps from the amp stacks today, but there's nothing else to suggest they're calming down. At one point Tom Hudson spews off the edge of the stage. Note to self: don't go down to the front.

Initial fretwankery aside, ANNA CALVI (John Peel Stage) issues a stinging riposte to PABH's testosterone-fuelled rampage. She has friends in high places - Brian Eno, Nick Cave and Greg Dulli among them, the latter shoving his way past me to get a better view - and it's not hard to see why. Coming across as an alluring, sensual femme fatale with a firm grasp of the theatrical, she might have walked straight off the lyric sheet for Cave's Murder Ballads, channelling the spirit of early PJ Harvey with a curl of the lip and a lash of the tongue. 'Jezebel' is introduced as a love song, and her vocals, delivered both seductively and stridently, result in her lipstick being smeared all over the mic. It's not for everyone, mind - Jen watches all of three minutes before declaring it "boring" and going for a nap propped up against one of the tent poles...

Is this afternoon's John Peel Stage bill specifically calculated to cause maximum swoonage amongst the sizeable indie boy contingent at the festival? It certainly seems that way, with WARPAINT up next. The hipster's pin-ups may hail from Los Angeles but they share none of their home city's brash gaudiness, glitz or superficiality. Debut album The Fool immerses the listener in the murky waters of post-punk and semi-psychedelia and it takes a little while to learn how to swim. 'Undertow' is about as unwitting an anthem as they come, but an anthem nonetheless, and there's a frisson of real excitement at the end with a burst of dual drumming, but otherwise in the live environment they're so placid and understated to the point of being slightly underwhelming.

Time to make our way over the other side of the site to the Cabaret Tent, which will be home for much of the evening. First up is Radio 4's favourite cuddly satirist JEREMY HARDY, who patiently explains that being a leftie means he's angry about everything: "I don't hate people - just their opinions, their actions, their looks..."

Far sillier is KEVIN ELDON (Cabaret Tent), who has long been renowned as one of the best translators of others' work (Big Train, Jam, Fist Of Fun, I'm Alan Partridge, Nighty Night, Nathan Barley, Black Books, Hot Fuzz...) but who is now giving exuberant expression to his own personal brand of madcap comic genius. The twenty-minute set somehow manages to encapsulate a clever satire on class, some mime, a handful of impressions, a song about potholing and jam sandwiches, attempts to develop a catchphrase ("Call that a blancmange?", "I've got no knees") and (thankfully) the brilliant 'My CDs Jump'.

Following that anticipated high comes an unexpected bonus - annoying cover song to start aside, 4 POOFS AND A PIANO (Cabaret Tent) are actually rather good. There's a break-up ballad about their split from Jonathan Ross, a ditty about the homoeroticism of football ('Football's Coming Out', to the tune of 'Three Lions'), a song that ponders when is the appropriate time in a relationship to start watching porn, and cheery crowd favourite 'Do You Take It Up The Arse?'

Pity poor RORY MOTION, who then clears the Cabaret Tent with embarrassing speed. We'll pity him from a distance, however, as we're not about to stick around either. Apparently he's performed at every Glastonbury since 1989 - God knows how he keeps getting asked back.

Plans to trudge all the way back over to the John Peel Stage are abandoned (Battles are curating a day at ATP in December anyway) in favour of knocking back the foaming ales upstairs in the Wench's Chest. Dan's Kyuss T-shirt results in animated conversation with a long-haired chap who turns out to be a sound engineer at our old haunt Rock City, and then with a bloke who helped construct the wooden structure we're in and so is hard at work enjoying the fruits of his labours. All very pleasant, until Newton Faulkner appears on the Avalon Stage and does unspeakable things to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

JANELLE MONAE (West Holts) has presumably chartered a whole flight for her band to cross the Atlantic, so plentiful are they - not to mention resplendent in their black and white outfits and perfectly rehearsed too, leaping up en masse when cued to do so by the music. It's a great show (definitely a show and not just a mere set) - razor-sharp, sassy R&B with a sprinkling of punk and a Michael Jackson cover. Still, even then it's not quite as entertaining to Chris and I as the sight of Dan staggering around in an interminable sneezing fit, snot streaming from his nose.

Jeremy Hardy might be in the process of graduating into a grumpy old man, but ARTHUR SMITH (Cabaret Tent) is already the real deal and seems to have been for years. Such is his skill and deftness of touch with an anecdote that half an hour of alternately grumbling and ranting about the idiocies and inanities of modern life is superb entertainment rather than the Daily Mail letters page in stand-up form.

Having launched the comedy career of Matt Lucas, Vic and Bob look to have done it again with ANGELOS EPITHEMIOU (Cabaret Tent). The big reveal isn't so much what's in his bag (some meat and a white stick "I took when the bloke wasn't looking", since you ask) as what he's wearing under his usual outfit: a full-body silver leotard. Whether the character has much longevity is debatable, but he's warmly received tonight, even when circumstances conspire against him - when Jen is invited to feel his coat, the sound man misses his cue to play MC Hammer's 'U Can't Touch This', leaving Angelos' gag without a punchline.

The witching hour, and appropriately enough here in the Cabaret Tent things take a turn for the sinister with a performance piece called Alice & Alice, in which an old man and old woman dress up as Alice (pig-tails and dresses) and, holding hands and fixing the audience with an unnerving stare, deliver the same monologue simultaneously with impeccable timing. As a non-comedy act goes, it's very creepy and - more importantly - it's not fucking juggling.

After a pilled-up stand-in musters two jokes, needing a fag to see him through even that, it's another familiar face in the form of PHIL KAY (Cabaret Tent). Hard to imagine that, back in the mists of time, this man once had his own Channel 4 series - not that he's not funny, just that his lunatic energy and penchant for improvisation must have made him a nightmare to capture for an audience at home. His hair is shorter, his beard is fuller, but otherwise he's the same excitable maverick, winging it for the entire set by making up nonsense ditties on the spot. When a man wearing nothing but socks and a hat walks on stage, soon joined by a topless girl from the crowd, Kay doesn't bat an eyelid, simply dropping his trousers and carrying on with the song.

The compere walks on completely naked, without any comment. Clearly this naturist malarkey is infectious.

More comic songsmithery, though this time of a more rehearsed and structured kind. As a Scouser who was part of Red Wedge during the 1980s and once collaborated with the late Linda Smith, STEVE GRIBBIN (Cabaret Tent) is a cross between Billy Bragg and Jeremy Hardy, performing a succession of aggressive yet amusing leftie singalongs.

After the rousing stints from Kay and Gribbin, IAN STONE brings the Cabaret Tent's official programme to an end with a bit of a damp squib.

On our way back home, Jen and I stumble across something called the Sensation Stage, where a bunch of mates - one of whom is in a Morphsuit and is choosing the next song by the spin of a wheel - have inadvertently drawn a big crowd. It's chaotically amateurish, but endearingly so, the music lurching from heavy hip-hop beats to pure chart cheese of the last three decades, and when they drop Pato Banton, Jen goes mental - as you would, if you were the proud owner of a deflated balloon signed by the great man in the early 1990s.

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